From beneath a veil of anti-expansion vibes, Baltimore Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams said today he would not act to prevent an expansion team from coming to Washington.
"I'm not ever going to do anything to prevent baseball from expanding into Washington," Williams said at baseball's annual winter meetings. "I have a deep affection for Washington. I have lived on the periphery (of the city) for years. Whether it helps or hurts me financially, Que sera, sera."
The views presented by several other team owners today, however, seemed to make Williams' words irrelevant, at least for now.
Baseball's long-range planning committee will make its official report on expansion during a meeting of major league owners Wednesday. The meeting will be held in secretive circumstances -- it will be at a site other than the Town and Country Hotel, where the rest of the meetings have been held, and will be off-limits to the media.
The committee, which includes Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, met for four hours today to work out details of its report. Committee members leaving the room said they had agreed not to make any comment today.
One of the committee members, Philadelphia Phillies President Bill Giles, said early today, "I don't see or hear any sentiment for expansion among owners. I think the former commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, felt stronger about expansion. I don't really know how Mr. Ueberroth feels about expansion. I know Kuhn felt baseball would have to expand in this decade. I don't think any of the owners feel that way."
It seems highly unlikely that the owners will reach the voting stage on expansion at these meetings, which end Thursday.
"I would not say that baseball will ever break the sound barrier when it comes to making decisions or making changes," said Roy Eisenhardt, president of the Oakland A's and a member of the long-range planning committee.
Eisenhardt said expansion "is part of a much larger question of baseball getting its fiscal disorientation somewhat straightened out. I would view expansion as an inevitable process.
"However, I think that there are at least two conditions precedent to its occurrence. One is a greater fiscal soundness to the game. Second, is assuring ourselves that clubs that need to relocate have done so. That may be no clubs, but we need to make sure."
Several financially strapped clubs, including the San Francisco Giants, are scheduled to update their situation to league owners Wednesday. Giants owner Bob Lurie and club officials have refused comment for weeks on where the team will play next season.
"We've never gone around the room and said, 'Who wants expansion?' " Giles said prior to the long-range planning committee meeting today. "We've just explored it. I think the time has come to see whether there really is sentiment for expansion.
"Somebody's got to be a champion of expansion," Giles added.
Meanwhile, Ueberroth, who has been noncommittal on expansion, made the commissioner's annual state of baseball address today.
One of the key themes of the address was that baseball has endured the labor, drug and fiscal strife of 1985 and "has turned the corner towards important progress."
Ueberroth's address took on blatant political overtones when he suggested an eight-point plan to combat drug abuse -- not just for baseball, but for many other segments of American society. His plan sent pointed messages to all sectors of society, including one to legislators: "The first thing is that the six countries that grow it (cocaine) -- our elected politicians who keep giving foreign aid to those countries have got to get tough and stop it there."
Ueberroth noted that drug-testing in the minor leagues would be doubled this year and that testing has begun in the winter leagues in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
"The best thing of all," Ueberroth said, "is that the players association . . . (is) going to come up with a (drug) program of their own. All I can say is God bless them. I'm glad they are going to do it. I hope the program has strength and teeth in it."
Ueberroth refuted recent charges that owners have been in collusion to halt the signing of free agents to large contracts. "I've heard some talk about conspiracy. I just can't take that seriously," Ueberroth said.
"To think conspiracy, it's a conspiracy between a few agents and some other people to get owners to continue to spend stupidly and crazily. The only thing that has happened in baseball is not conspiracy, it's common sense. Common sense has taken over.
"What has happened is that the pot is dry. The losses have built up, built up and built up at $60 million, $50 million or $40 million per year -- you pick the number -- year after year. It just can't continue . . . There just isn't as much left in the orange to squeeze."